Soyoung Park’s Snowglobe Is a Thrilling Dystopian Page-Turner

Books Reviews Soyoung Park
Soyoung Park’s Snowglobe Is a Thrilling Dystopian Page-Turner

Dystopian stories are a hallmark of YA fiction. In this genre space, we regularly see stories of teens who fighting for their lives for the entertainment of rich elites, joining potentially deadly competitions to win prizes or potentially secure a romantic partner, or struggling to exist in a decimated landscape with scarce reasons. But the subgenre works precisely because it’s willing to ask difficult questions and genuinely imagine grim answers. Things rarely turn out great for anyone in stories like these, and often simple survival is the best many of the characters in them can expect. But dystopian fiction never fails to swing for the narrative fences and such is the case with Soyoung Park’s Snowglobe. 

Originally written in Korean and translated into English by Joungmin Lee Comfort, Snowglove mixes many of the genre’s most popular imagery and tropes together into something thrililng and new. One part Snowpiercer, one part The Truman Show, and one part Squid Game, the story grapples with everything from social inequality and the impact of climate change to questions of celebrity, privacy, and what it means when we offer up so much of our own identities in the name of popularity and engagement. It’s a book that’s endlessly compelling, full of twists and plenty of complex moral and ethical questions about escaping from our own lives by watching others, the idea of privacy as a kind of currency, and how far one should be willing to go to get ahead. It’s fascinating, not for the least of which reason being that it is a dystopia that feels all too possible in many ways. 

Set in a world where climate change has sent temperatures around the globe plummeting to subzero levels, life for most people is fairly bleak. Sixteen-year-old Jeon Chobahm, like most of her neighbors, trudges to work every day in the local power plant, where employees create the energy that keeps the city running through a variety of manual labor. To escape the monotony of their lives, Chobahm and her family voraciously consume the reality television programs produced in Snowglobe, an exclusive, glass-domed city where the climate is mild and regulated and the residents are all actors—whose lives are broadcast for the entertainment of those in the wider world. In return, the performers get access to a life of luxury and ease that is essentially unthinkable to those outside their climate-controlled bubble. 

Chobahm is a particular fan of the show about the life of Goh Haeri, a young woman she bears a striking resemblance to and whose life she has watched unfold on her screens for years. But when the actress dies under mysterious circumstances that look an awful lot like suicide, Chobahm is asked by one of the all-powerful Snowglobe directors to become Haeri’s secret replacement, pretending to be her for the millions of viewers watching along at home, in exchange for a chance to attend film school and earn a place in Snowglobe for herself. But once she arrives under the city’s famed dome, Chobahm discovers that almost nothing is as it seems and its residents’ cushy lives of luxury come with dark strings attached. 

As she struggles to to adjust to Haeri’s highly public and highly publicized lifestyle she meets celebrities, dignitaries, and other famous people including Yi Bonwhe, the son and heir of Snowglobe’s founding family, who seems to have a heretofore unknown and unexplained connection to the girl Chobahm is pretending to be. She’s made the new weather girl on Snowglobe’s nightly news program. (Don’t worry, all she has to do is pick balls out of a basket to choose what the next day’s climate-controlled choice will be.) She’s invited to posh parties and thrilling sporting events and asked out on a date by a mega-famous star athlete. Truly, she’s living her best life. 

But the longer she stays inside its walls, the more the cracks in the perfection of Snowglobe’s seemingly perfect veneer begin to show. Haeri’s family is acting increasingly strange. Famous former actors disappear with little explanation, and strange mirrors that seem to be portals to other areas of the city are scattered around the Bonwhe estate. It quickly becomes apparent that the real Haeri was leading a kind of double life, and if Chobahm wants to survive long enough to find out the truth about Snowglobe’s many mysteries she’ll have to undertake a risky plan to expose several of its darkest truths.

Park’s worldbuilding is honestly fascinating. I’d have loved to learn more about the conditions that led to Snowglobe’s creation, how the various, often truly bizarre reality programs are pitched and chosen—there’s literally one about a woman who keeps committing murders throughout—and the methods by which the ruling class convinced the majority of the population that a life of drudgery was somehow a fair exchange for the chance to watch a never-ending reality show. 

Chobahm makes for a likable and relatable heroine. She’s genuinely tempted by everything Snowglobe has to offer: promises of success from an ambitious and successful director, creature comforts she’s infrequently experienced,  the rare chance to have fun and enjoy her life in a world that offers girls like her little of it. Plus, the fancy parties and daes with hot championship athletes. Who among us wouldn’t be tempted, at least a little bit? But as the secrets of Snowglobe unravel and darker conspiracies take center stage, Chobahm’s starry-eyed fascination turns into something that looks a lot more like rage. After all, what does it truly mean when so many are asked to sacrifice so much for the benefit of so few? And when the powerful continually lie about what’s going on behind the scenes?

The propulsive narrative style makes Park’s novel a breezy, fast-paced read, with plenty of twists and surprises that will keep audiences attempting to solve Snowglobe’s many mysteries and unravel the complicated motivations of its residents right alongside Chobahm. It’s the first installment in a planned duology, and while the ending may leave some folks (read: me) wondering what on earth could happen next, it’ll be fun to see where this goes. 

Snowglobe is available now.

Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB

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